China’s maneuvers in the Greater Pacific region are getting thwarted by its arch-foes, the United States and its allies like Taiwan and Australia. The latest Chinese bid to expand its influence in the Greater Pacific region by establishing ties with the Solomon Islands has also been thwarted as Malaita, the most populous island of the archipelago nation, is now looking to break away from the Solomon Islands.
Solomon Islands, which used to be Taiwan’s most populous ally in terms of countries that gave it full recognition, switched sides last year and established diplomatic ties with Beijing instead. This week China also established an embassy in the Solomon Islands, showing how the predatory Dragon is eyeing the strategically located archipelago nation for building a military presence in the region. But China is now facing a high-voltage shock from Malaita which is discussing plans with Washington and its allies for the development of a deep-sea port.
Now, if Malaita decides to break away from the Solomon Islands, then China’s plans of building military presence in the archipelago nation would be practically done to dust. Malaita’s independence referendum has clear markings of support from the free world countries like the US, Taiwan and Australia. Any future Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be of no real use, if the US and its allies are also able to find presence in Malaita, in which case Chinese presence in the Solomon Islands would get neutralised.
The Solomon Islands enjoys a highly strategic position, especially in the ongoing China-US rivalry. It is located merely 1,800km East of Papua New Guinea and any Chinese base in the Islands would have been a potential threat to the US interests in the region like Guam and the upcoming Lombrum Naval base in Papua New Guinea.
As for Australia, it meant finding China near its Eastern Coast, at a time when Canberra and Beijing are locked in diplomatic tensions. China remains a strategic threat for Australia and having the Chinese PLA move next door wouldn’t have been very desirable.
Needless to say, China has been in a hurry. Last year, the Solomon Islands even finalised a deal with a Chinese company for developing the Island of Tulagi. Australia Financial Review reported that the concerned company, China Sam Enterprise Group, was actually trying to lease the Island and the surrounding region for a period of 75 years. These were clear indications of China looking to find a base for itself in between the strategic waterways.
China was rejoicing its success in severing the Solomon Islands from Taiwan, but Malaita has suddenly spoiled all its dreams. And in fact, the popular separatism sentiment in Malaita is driven by Solomon Islands’ decision to choose China over Taiwan.
Malaita Premier, Daniel Suidani, has alleged that the Solomon Islands government is pressuring his province to accept China; though Malaita had refused to recognise the Solomon Islands’ change in diplomatic ties with Taiwan and China. Suidani said, “It is time for Malaita people to see whether they are still willing to be part of a country that its leadership is becoming dictatorial.”
China remains incapable of finding a solution to the Malaita issue. Even when China officially opened its Embassy in the Solomon Islands, Malaita was in the middle of preparing the referendum process. Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani has said that the refrendum could take place within weeks. Local politicians feel that the Solomon Islands’ switch of allegiance from Taiwan to China is causing the division.
Peter Kenilorea Jnr, one of the nation’s opposition MPs said, “Malaita independence has always been simmering but the national government’s perceived disregard of Malaita’s, and to a greater extent the nation’s, voice on the switch would have played a big part in pushing Malaita towards looking more seriously at independence.”
China is splitting the Solomon Islands into a pro-China faction and pro-US and pro-Taiwan faction. Any future Chinese expansionism in the Solomon Islands is therefore becoming more or less irrelevant. For some time, it seemed as if China made a major incursion, but with signs of Malaita breaking away from the Solomon Islands, it is clear that the US, Taiwan and Australia are the ones having the last laugh.